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Diana Jones - The Museum Of Appalachia Recordings (Interview / Review)

Diana Jones – The Museum Of Appalachia Recordings (Interview / Review)

by on 2 July, 2013

in Album Reviews, Featured Albums, Interviews

Diana Jones has listened to her heart in the making of this new CD. The sleeve notes explain that, “Songs tell us how they need to be arranged and recorded if we listen.” Diana continues, “Some need a studio with isolation booths for a variety of musicians to overdub parts and some need a cabin with a few good pickers and a fireplace big enough to sit in.”

She‘s describing Peter’s Homestead Cabin at the Museum Of Appalachia, where this recording was made. The cabin is one of 30 buildings that have been rescued from neglect and dereliction and moved to the Tennessee living history museum, partnered with the Smithsonian institution. A genuinely odd coincidence suggests that Chet Atkins used to live across from the original location, even casting an envious eye over the cabin, which was much larger than his own homestead. As Diana reveals, “My grandfather had his first band at 15 with Chet Atkins and they played on the Cas Walker radio and dancehall circuit. When I walked into the museum there was a display honoring Chet and next to it one for Cas. It just felt right.”

I ask Diana if the obviously Spartan conditions that the sleeve notes describe made life difficult, but she assures me, “Joe DeJarnette came down from Virginia and set up a remote rig. He was amazingly efficient and quick. We were there for two days and didn’t want to break down the equipment so Joe slept with the equipment after the first day.”

Thankfully, that seems the only inconvenience as Diana had set her heart on recording there. As she explains, “I wanted to do something different in terms of how I recorded the record. I love the studio setup in terms of getting great sound quality but I don’t like feeling isolated from the other musicians in the process. Also I was thinking of the roots of the Appalachian music that inspires me which was played by musicians in the same room, in a circle who they could hear each other. At first I looked at Primitive Baptist Churches and was led through a series of events to the Museum Of Appalachia near where my family lives in Eastern Tennessee.”

Diana JonesThe museum is an active supporter of musicians already and pays some of the locals to play in Peter’s Cabin as part of their living heritage exhibition. Diana found what she was looking for and also the support she needed to make it happen. She tells me, “I was in there listening by the fire when it occurred to me that it was the way I wanted to record and right there by that fire. I met with the president of the museum Elaine Irwin and she loved the idea. The staff was incredibly helpful and they really weren’t fussy at all. They only asked us to make sure not to let out the sheep, which we did… But we got them back in the end!”

There is a certain wisdom, if also some risk in following your heart, but happily in this case the intuitive choice has paid back handsomely and the result is the best Diana Jones album so far. The playing is superb and Diana is lucky to have Joe ‘Joebass’ DeJarnette, Matt Coombs and Shad Cobb keeping her company is the round. She reveals just how well they worked as a team telling me, “Matt Combs and Shad Cobb worked as a unit. They play together quite a bit and each of them plays everything, so they were switching instruments back and forth. It was very impressive. I met Matt through a friend and the three of us rehearsed two times in Nashville at Matt’s place and then went to the cabin for two days to make the record. Sitting in the circle was great. We had no headphones so we worked with the sound of the room and each other and played off of what we were throwing out into the room.”

I tell Diana that one thing that definitely seems to have benefitted is her voice. “Thank you. I actually couldn’t hear my voice as well as I can in the studio but I think it was a good thing. It was like it became an instrument too and I had to sing more with my heart than my head.” You can hear it in Ohio, a song made all the more poignant when you know the story, which Diana has explained confiding, “My sister in law committed suicide ten years ago. It was not from the deck of a ship but she did it to escape what she thought was inescapable pain. I had a dream of the bones of the song which is informed by my sister in law’s struggle and death.”

There have been other revelations about the songs like Goldmine, written to commemorate a friends untimely death, which Diana acknowledges took ten years to complete. This suggests her songwriting is an ongoing process and she confirms this saying, “I am constantly writing. It’s how I make sense of my life and life in general and it’s cheaper than therapy. I did have a writing jag when I thought of this record and did some re-writing as well as writing some new songs specifically for this project.”

The musical settings really are superb and the recording has captured the immediacy of the playing, which gives that backwoods feel. It seems so natural, but I wonder if Diana gets a sense of connection through the ages with her music. She reveals, “I do feel a sense of channeling. It’s a peaceful feeling when I get to the place where I can give myself over either to the writing or in the case of the record, the recording process, playing the songs so intently that everything else falls away. The cabin was built in 1780 so it was easy to feel the music and people in the walls.”

What is obvious too is the way that she brings the themes of old style American folks songs to life. Title’s like the opener O Sinner, or Drunkard’s Daughter and Satan echo the old-timey black and white morality. Again Diana agrees but is keen to qualify this and tells me, “There are religious themes in Appalachian music and I think of them more in terms of metaphor personally. I also respect that they were important to the people who listened to and sang the songs, my ancestors being among them. The ideas and metaphors are very inspiring to me. They create the raw material I draw from.”

Sparrow, is perhaps typical of this mix with lines like, “My mama read from the book of God til she fell down with fever.” The sparrow could be a little girl from any era, but when the she falls under the evil eye of her sister’s husband, the result is inevitable, “I did what I had to do, burned the Devil’s house behind me.”

Jones’ own life story is not straightforward. She grew up as an adopted child and all accounts seem to point to a life with out much music. “My adoptive parents were not musical and the only stereo in the house was my little record player, the kind you can close like a box and take with you. I carried it everywhere. I remember getting it at three with a Louis Armstrong 45.” It wasn’t until she was reunited with her birth parents family and notably her maternal grandfather, that the connection to the music of Tennessee that she was already feeling was brought into focus. She explains, “My grandfather was a musician and he introduced me to the music he loved which was the old mountain tradition. He was a kind, generous person. My grandfather was one of eighteen and I am the eldest of fourteen grandchildren so there were a lot of folks to meet.” I’ve read somewhere that a memoir is in progress, which is an intriguing prospect.

The family reunion and her grandfather in particular certainly had a profound effect on Diana. His death in 2001 caused a complete rethink of her then fledgling musical career, as she immersed herself in the musical world he had revealed. The hiatus eventually led to the series of albums starting with My Remembrance Of You, released in 2006, the year that she was also acknowledged at Kerrville Festival. “As well as great performances Kerrville is a festival all about community and song sharing. I cut my songwriting teeth around the campfires that went into the early morning. Then in 2006 I won the songwriting competition. It was like coming home by then, I knew so many people there.”

But however interesting Diana’s back-story, we’ll perhaps have to wait for the memoir that has been mooted. Meanwhile the latest chapter contains her best record so far and the great news is that she’ll be in the UK starting with The End Of The Road Festival in August with more dates in September. Diana confirms, “My next tour will be solo. I’ll play my six string and my little tenor guitar. I’m really looking forward to sharing the new songs with old and new audience members this year.” An old-timey Amen to that!

Review / Interview by: Simon Holland




UK Tour Dates

Aug 30, The End of The Road Festival, Dorset, England
Sep 3, Nottingham, The Maze @ The Forest Tavern
Sep 5, Belfast, tbc
Sep 6, Ratoath, Venue Theatre
Sep 7, TBA Southbank Centre -PURCELL ROOM, Royal Festival Hall, London
Sep 8, Wakefield, The Hop
Sep 12, Glasgow, The Glad Cafe
Sep 14, Groningen, Take Root Festival
Sep 15, Chorley, St Bedes Club *

*Venue might change

Museum Of Appalachia Recordings released on Proper Records on July 8th 2013

Available from:

Amazon | ProperMusic


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